A couple of years ago I found the coolest newspaper article when researching William Shepard of Westfield, Massachusetts. It has always been in the back of my mind, waiting, I guess, for me to finally say “Hey, I need to blog about this.”
So, finally, here I am blogging about this.
On and off for about 15 years, William tried his hand at politics by running for the office of Representative, or Lieutenant Governor, from 1789-1804. It took nine tries before he was finally elected as Representative of Massachusetts, Western District, in 1796 (and again in 1797, 1798, his last win was in 1800).
In May of 1797 he apparently stood up in session and made reply to a speech given by President John Adams a few short weeks earlier. His words were sent to the newspaper by ‘A Customer.’ (Maybe this was done by William himself, to help sway the voters back home in his favor for the next election.) By the way, he was a Federalist.2
…The observations of the Hon. William Shepherd in the House of Representatives, May 27, on the reported answer to the President’s Speech…William Shepard – speech
Mr. Shepherd did not rise from his seat with an expectation of throwing much light on the subject under debate; but being a new member, he conveyed it his duty to come forward and announce his political principles to his constituents and to the world, and to make some remarks and observations on the subject under consideration that he might be able to justify his own conduct for thus doing,
“Sir, said he, I do not come forward with an intention to criminate the government of the United States, for in general I believe it has been wisely conducted and well administered. I do not come forward to make researchers into the police of the government of Great Britain, neither do I come forward prejudiced against the republic of France, nor do I come forward with any prepossessed prejudiced against any of the members of this House, for they are the greater part of them entire strangers to me; but Sir, the President of the United States in his speech has informed us that there is an unhappy dispute existing between the republic of France and the United States1, and on that account there is a report Sir, on your honor’s table, which was designed for an answer to his speech, but objection has been made, and an amendment is proposed by the honorable member from Virginia—the question is before your committee, whether we shall admit of the amendment, first; Sir, I will take a retrospective review of the conduct of both nations and remark how France first came to be connected with the United States—because it has been hinted by some gentlemen, that France had no motives to induce her to take an active part with us—but pure benevolence and gratitude to help the poor Americans in their helpless and forlorn situation; but Sir, did we hear any thing from France in ’75, even in ’76 when we wre obliged to fly in every direction before the forces of Great Britain asked and barefooted—so, they did not come to our assistance. In ’77 we were more successful, the face of our affairs was materially changed, we had the good fortune to take and capture a whole British army, but as yet Sir, we received no assistance from France. In ’78 in the opening of the campaign we saw no French to assist us—what did we do at the action at Monmouth, we kept our ground as least in spite of all the force of Great Britain—By this time France had come into an alliance with us, but Sir, let us make a little pause here and enquire whether France had not some motive besides mere goodness to the Americans.
Was it no inducement to France to lop off so considerable a branch of the British government as the United States were —and weaken that government—had ever a nation a stronger motive to induce them to step into our succor.
I will only say, that in the year ’78 Count d’Estaing, planned with others an expedition against Rhode Island. In the operation of which the fleet under his command, was unsuccessful, and he was obliged to quit the harbor, and left the army of the United States on the Island, in a dangerous situation.
I mean not—by making these observations to criminate any one, for I will admit that it was all owing to misfortune, and the fate of war; I shall make no observations until the year ’81, here I acknowledge that the French army and navy of France was of great and essential service to us in the capture of Cornwallis, and I am willing to acknowledge that I felt thankfulness and the deepest gratitude towards that nation of any in the world, from their first alliance with us, to the close of the war with Great Britain. I shall now observe the conduct of France in their own nation—soon after they left America they began a reform in their own government—no man on earth rejoiced more than myself while they were struggling for their just right against the nations of Europe. I rejoiced at every victory they gained and mourned at their defeats; but sir, if they had closed here, I should have rejoiced with them to this moment; happy of us had they stopped here and all Europe besides. I will now observe and make one or two remarks on the conduct of Great Britain towards America at this time—Great Britain complained of our conduct towards them—at the same time they were committing depredations and spoliations on our navigation—and what was the cry of many of the people of this country at that time—join France and go to war with them, how can you bear to have the American flag insulted and degraded; but what was the measure taken by the Executive? why he sent an Envoy Extraordinary and made a treaty with Great Britain—and agreed on the friendly principles on which we should settle all our differences, this however gives uneasiness to France, and it will be well to make some enquiry what are the substantial reasons for this uneasiness, are they not because we did not enter into war with Great Britain , here the executive part of government is called into question for their conduct; will it not be reasonable and just that we should find them guilty of a breach of their trust before we condemn them.
Has any one been able to pint out and show wherein they have gone beyond their powers which the constitution clothes them with. I have heard of none:
But Sir, what measure had been taken by the Executive to remove the complaints of France, have we not pursued the same course which was taken with England, have we not sent a minister to them in order to remove their complaints and settle with them on the most amicable terms. But how has he been replied? why, rejected with insult and they would not even listen to the voice of accommodation.
Several gentlemen have reproached us with ingratitude and speak of it as the most heinous sin a man can commit, I admit it to be one of the greatest sins, but where have we been guilty, have we taken away their property, have we unsubtle them in the person of their minister. Then why are we to be drawn to a confession of guilt when we know we are innocent—again let me ask where is our courage, our magnanimity, our confidence, if we dare not say of them what we know to be the truth; shall we not say they are wrong when we know they are wrong.”
Some gentlemen have said that the speech is a declaration of war, it does not read so to me, that it is sounding the war whoop, I have heard no war whoop, I have heard nothing hostile but against our own government, and gentlemen who have endeavored to criminate the Executive have proved their incompetence, they have not been able to produce evidence of a single fault, they are driven to act like the men who were brought as witnesses to condemn our favor, their testimony is nought and they are driven to make any outcry of crucify him, crucify him, and take his blood on their own heads, in order to get him given up into their own power. Are we in doing this, acting either wisely or prudently? I think we are doing neither.
He expressed the degree of satisfaction it would give him to find a more general unanimity in the house, but he despaired of seeing it, on this account he would prefer the report, to the amendment, not but what he was willing for the sake of conciliation to alter some things in the address. He hoped they would agree to put the country in a state of defense as the best best of avoiding hostility, this was an old adage, but it was as true as it was old. There was nothing he dreaded so much as going to war either with Great Britain or France. He knew his constituents were to a man opposed to war, he knew they would relinquish every thing but one in order to preserve peace—that is their independence. That would eternally disgrace them, and they were determined never to be disgraced—He knew his constituents would never be induced to quarrel with the government, and he was certain they were pleased with its administration—he could also assure the committee they would concur very readily in any measures Congress might adopt on this trying occasion.
The most likely reason that it took so long for William to win an election, or even get votes (in several earlier runnings he had only 1 vote), was because of his being instumental in the defeat of Shay’s Rebellion. The people of Massachusetts had long memories, and vindictive feelings about his role in the event. In fact anonymous neighbors, and bullies, threatened and assaulted himself and his family for years afterward:
excited against me the keenest Resentments of the disappointed Insurgents, manifested in the most pointed Injurys, such as burning my Fences, injuring my Woodlands, by Fire, beyond a Recovery for many Years – wantonly & cruelly butchering two valuable Horses, whose ears were cut off and Eyes bored out before they were killed ~ insulting me personally with the vile Epithet of the Murderer of my Brethren, and, through anonimous Letters, repeated by threatening me with the Destruction of my House and Family by Fire.- which kind of Injuries I occasionally experience even to this day.William Shepard
There were others though that respected his willingness to serve his community, in many local offices, and defend the state of Massachusetts “at all hazards.” They understood that you don’t give in to terrorists, which is exactly what the Shay’s Rebellion participants were.
One of these men recalled his presence and military bearing at militia exercises and drills, which inspired admiration and respect:
When I recall his large, imposing figure, bedecked with his trusty sword and crimson sash…and heard the whispers ‘there’s the general,’ I remember the awe, notwithstanding his genial face, with which he inspired me.3Unknown
The haters were in the minority long enough for him to be elected four times as a representative of Massachusetts.
- See the following website https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-29-02-0308#TSJN-01-29-0314-kw-0001 for more on the issue of Adams and the French.